Picture the scene: We are driving out of London after a hard day's window shopping, heading for the M4 as the weekend exodus from the capital is beginning to build up to the famous friday rush-hour. On the passenger seat next to me, she becomes visibly tense, craning her neck to the left and telling me to slow down. We are approaching the last Georgio Armani store opportunity for several hundred miles, and the black-clad young man with the ear-piece standing outside it, looks an incongruous mixture of invitingly hostile and intimidatingly welcoming.
"Just pull up outside for a minute, I want to have a quick look inside", she says.
Pull up outside. There is a convoy of taxis, buses, cars, coaches and delivery lorries snaking so far behind us in the rear-view mirror, that they disappear into infinity along the narrow stretch of city road. Interspersed amongst them are several suicidal, motorcycle dispatch riders, desperately avoiding wing-mirrors as they speed along with their cargoes of class A drugs for the rich and famous.
I stop right outside the shop to let her off, and a cacophony of horns, hooters and sirens rises above the noise of the engines, even though the manoeuvre only takes about 4 seconds. I arrange to wait in the next street to the left, and I expect to pick her up within about 5 minutes.
The street is predominantly residential, and there are no spaces to park next to the white-painted, pillar-fronted mansions that line both sides of it, so I reverse into a small gap which is the steeply sloping entrance to an underground, private car park. No sooner have I switched off the engine of my modest Volvo estate, than a rich, bass, two-tone blast of a car horn sounds in my left ear. A brand new Bentley sports car is patiently waiting to go down the ramp. I switch the engine back on and get out of his way, then take up position again after he has glided into the gloom behind me. I switch the engine back off.
20 seconds later, a shriller car horn sounds in my right ear, and I look up to see a gleaming, red Ferrari waiting to go down the burrow, so I turn the engine on again and let him. When the Aston Martin appears a few minutes later, I decide it would be better to double-park on the road and force people to skirt round me, which is what I do.
Another 20 minutes passes. Then another.
After about three-quarters of an hour, she appears at the top of the street, stopping to look one way and the other to see where I am parked. She is carrying two, large, Georgio Armani bags, one in each hand, and - even from this distance - I can see that she is light-headed with excitement and adrenalin, like a junkie after a fix. She is already clad in about £4000 worth of designer clothes and shoes, but that is not the point. She will spend the two hour journey home in an exquisite state of anticipation, until we close the door behind us and she pulls off the old outfit and puts on the new, standing in front of the mirror and turning one way then the other, with her hands in the impractical little pockets.
It has been a tradition of ours over the years, to seek out every proper Armani shop in every town that we visit, and I stay outside on the street with a camera, waiting for her to emerge with the same look of satiated intoxication, holding a paper bag and looking around for me. I have photos of her coming out of flagship stores in Madrid, Florence, Rome and Venice, to name but four, and she has the same glazed look on her face in each one.
Of course, I do appreciate her love for good clothes, and I love her for her addiction. Also, all (or most) of the sprees that I have accompanied her on have brought me joy (or at least amusement) and I would not have missed them for anything.
It's not just Armani either, though he has been the star over the years. When we were in Florence, we visited the head office of Salvatore Ferragamo, the legendary Italian shoe-maker from a peasant background. Upstairs in the vast palazzo, there is a subtly lit museum housing glass display cases which contain every wonderful, mad, flamboyant shoe he ever made. They are like jewels in the half light, and they are real works of art. You really must pay it a visit if you are there - it's free, and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful.
This post is dedicated to Maiden Luxe and all the husbands and boyfriends who are - after all - victims, just like their partners....